The importance of knowing Bethlehem

Bethlehem skyline from Church of the Nativity. (photo: Daniel Case – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The future of Bethlehem is being strangled under Israeli military occupation.

By Dr. James J. Zogby | American Arab Institute | Dec 28, 2019

Right​-wing Evangelicals, under the sway of heretical theology, are so blinded by their obsession with Israel that they can’t see Israel’s victims.

I have long been troubled by the way so many believing Christians in the West have either been ignorant of or turned their backs on the plight of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim. Right​-wing Evangelicals, under the sway of heretical theology, are so blinded by their obsession with Israel that they can’t see Israel’s victims. Other Western Christians simply just don’t know or about the people of Palestine.

I find this state of affairs to always distressing, but especially so at Christmas time, since the Christmas story we celebrate not only took place in that land, it continues to define the lives of the Palestinians who live in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth.

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Christianity meltdown in its own birthplace? Western churches ignore multiple warnings

Pope Francis Bethlehem 5727c
Pope Francis praying at the Grotto in the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem on May 25, 2014. (photo: Globovisión / Flickr)
Ten years after Christian Palestinians issued an anguished plea to the global religious community for help, nothing has happened and life in Palestine has deteriorated even further under another decade of illegal occupation.

By Stuart Littlewood | American Herald Tribune | Dec 31, 2019

Central to the problem is the so-called Ecumenical Deal, a reluctance to question Jewish support for Israel for fear of unpicking decades of interfaith reconciliation following the Holocaust.

Ten years ago a group of Christian Palestinians issued “a cry of hope in the absence of all hope”, reflecting their country’s decades of suffering under brutal Israeli occupation. They said they had reached a dead-end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people because international decision-makers contented themselves with ‘managing’ the crisis rather than solving it.

The situation was, and still is, destroying human life and that must surely be of concern to the Church. “We call out as Christians and as Palestinians to our religious and political leaders, to our Palestinian society and to the Israeli society, to the international community, and to our Christian brothers and sisters in the Churches around the world.”

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Israel to expand colonization of Hebron

An aerial view of a group of people walking
A group of Israeli settlers walk through a Palestinian neighborhood in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on 23 November. (photo: Mosab Shawer / APA images)
Hopes to open what was once a thriving marketplace and commercial artery for the ancient city of Hebron is now being proposed as Jewish-only settlement.

By Miriam Deprez | The Electronic Intifada | Dec 31, 2019

‘Israel’s decision to build a new illegal settlement in occupied Hebron is the first tangible result of the US decision to legitimize colonization,’
— Saeb Erakat, senior figure in the Palestine Liberation Organization

Stepping through Checkpoint 56 onto Shuhada Street is like stepping into a different world.

What was once a thriving marketplace and commercial artery for the ancient city of Hebron is now a ghost street, its only life a few Israeli soldiers and settlers where shop and home fronts were welded shut 25 years ago.

Israel shut the street – which leads to the Ibrahimi mosque, known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs – to Palestinians after an American Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 Muslim worshippers at the site in February 1994.

Shuhada Street is now the site of a new settlement plan proposed by Israeli defense minister Naftali Bennett, where he intends to construct Jewish-only residential units.

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Palestinians can have human rights when they start winning Nobel Prizes — Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens at the University of Chicago's alumni weekend, June 7, 2014.
Bret Stephens at the University of Chicago’s alumni weekend, June 7, 2014. (photo: Jason Smith / JTA)
The New York Times opinion columnist has sparked controversy and outrage over his latest op-ed.

By Philip Weiss | Mondoweiss | Dec 29, 2019

Stephens’s argument is that Jews are not just smarter by IQ data, but they think differently.

There is a big controversy unfolding over Bret Stephens’s latest column, in which he says that the secret of Jewish genius is that Jews are more imaginative moral thinkers than anyone else. Even Fox News is saying that it is racist, and quoting Sen. Brian Shatz saying that the column crossed a line.

Stephens’s argument is that Jews are not just smarter by IQ data, but they think differently. Jewish intelligence is “so often matched by such bracing originality and high-minded purpose.”

One can apply a prodigious intellect in the service of prosaic things — formulating a war plan, for instance, or constructing a ship. One can also apply brilliance in the service of a mistake or a crime, like managing a planned economy or robbing a bank.

But… Jewish genius operates differently. It is prone to question the premise and rethink the concept; to ask why (or why not?) as often as how; to see the absurd in the mundane and the sublime in the absurd. Ashkenazi Jews might have a marginal advantage over their gentile peers when it comes to thinking better. Where their advantage more often lies is in thinking different.

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Why I’m not a Christian Zionist

Israeli flag (photo: Flickr / James Emery)
A theologian and scholar examines Christian Zionism as a theological question.

By Gary M. Burge | Banner  | Dec 16, 2019

They (Reformed theologians) worry Christian Zionists have let their zeal for prophecy and history’s end drown out other, more primary Christian values.

I have had the dubious privilege of standing in the crosshairs of one of the most divisive issues of our day: Israel and Zionism. Thanks to my many trips to the Middle East and my friendships in the Palestinian church, I have been drawn into conversations that are not casually shared, but vehemently debated. You can lose friends over this one.

Christian Zionism is a political theology with 19th-century roots. It took on its full form following the birth of modern Israel in 1948. It is a political theology because modern Israel, in this view, is not like other countries: it is the outworking of God’s plan foretold in the Scriptures, and therefore modern Israel’s political fortunes have profound theological and spiritual consequences.

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‘The Last Generation’: How occupation is driving Christians out of Palestine


Worshipers in Bethlehem
Christian pilgrims pray in the Church of the Nativity, the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, in the West Bank holy city of Bethlehem. (photo: AFP)
Many are leaving to escape the discrimination at the hands of Israel which is the common fate of all Palestinians, Christian and Muslims.

By Peter Oborne  |  Middle East Eye |  Dec 24, 2019

‘Behind the lights and celebrations, we feel that Bethlehem is a big prison, surrounded by settlements and divided by a wall.’
— Pastor Munther Isaac

One week before Christmas. I’m in Manger Square and watching pilgrims descend from buses and make their way to the Church of the Nativity, first built in the fourth century, on the spot where, according to Christian tradition, the infant Jesus was born.

Inside the church I join a party of Spanish pilgrims. We pause to sing carols by Jesus’s crib. There’s no doubting the sincerity or the devotion of those who make the pilgrimage to Bethlehem every year. For me, an Anglican Christian, it is a profoundly moving experience.

But how much do most of these pilgrims know about the small and embattled Palestinian Christian community which survives almost 2,000 years since the death of Jesus?

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Vying for seats at World Zionist Congress, liberal newcomers like Peter Beinart hope to block Israeli settlements funding

Jewish Israelis seen in the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron, Nov. 19, 2019. (photo: Amir Levy / Getty Images)
In upcoming election new candidates hope to nudge efforts toward addressing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank more directly.

By Ron Kampeas  |  Jewish Telegraphic Agency  |  Dec 24, 2019

The candidates hope to steer funding away from Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and toward causes like expanding rights for women and minorities.

The list includes names like Peter Beinart, the liberal writer; Jeremy Ben-Ami, th president of the liberal Middle East policy group J Street; and Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women.

No, it’s not an ad for a symposium on the Upper East Side, but a slate of first-time candidates seeking seats in the 38th World Zionist Congress, the legislative authority of a 120-year-old Zionist organization that helps determine the fate of $1 billion in spending on Jewish causes.

Elections, which are open to Jews 18 and over anywhere in the world, are held every five years. The next ones will be held between Jan. 21 and March 11.

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International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Palestine

Demonstrators outside the International Criminal Court call for the Israeli army to be prosecuted for war crimes, The Hague, Nov 2019. (photo: Peter de Jong / AP)
There is sufficient evidence to investigate alleged Israeli and Palestinian war crimes committed in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, the court has announced.

By Peter Beaumont | The Guardian | Dec 20, 2019

‘In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.’
— Fatou Bensouda, ICC Chief Prosecutor

In a landmark decision, the ICC said it saw “no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”

The announcement ended years of preliminary investigations into alleged crimes by both Israeli forces and Palestinians, and signaled that the court was preparing to open a formal investigation.

A statement published by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on the court’s website on Friday said her office “has concluded with the determination that all the statutory criteria under the Rome statute for the opening of an investigation have been met.”
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Cyber bullies at Canary Mission muzzle free speech

Cyberstalkers from the Canary Mission target Palestinian rights advocates. (photo: Keith Beaty / Toronto Star / Getty Images)
How an under the radar, organized multimillion dollar influence campaign is seeking to impact public opinion and elections, hijacking public polls, directing social media messages with trolls that engage in well-organized digital astroturfing.

By Dr. Alice Rothchild | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs  |  Jan/Feb 2020

The Canary Mission is an anonymous site that identifies and compiles a dossier on Palestinian rights advocates in academia, and harasses them through web and Twitter postings, tagging students, administrators, employers, and alerting the FBI to baseless, unvetted accusations.

In an era of malicious social media campaigns, the Canary Mission stands out as a little known but highly effective organization that is a threat to free speech and political organizing in the U.S. Targeting graduate and undergraduate students, and professors, the website is designed to inhibit political speech regarding Israel on campuses, ruin reputations, and destroy professional careers through publishing malicious lies and unrelenting attacks.

The McCarthyite blacklist has become especially frightening because it’s being used by law enforcement in Israel and the U.S. Palestinian rights advocates have been interrogated and deported from Israel because of their Canary Mission profiles. Others have been grilled by the FBI or denied employment.

Recently, a graduate student with stellar qualifications contacted me when his/her education and future career were severely derailed by this shadowy website. (That graduate student asked to be absolutely anonymous since he/she is so traumatized and frightened by the experience.) As I researched his/her concerns, I discovered that I too was listed, portrayed as an anti-Israel conspiracy theorist and provocateur.

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Court dismissed case based on theory behind Trump’s executive order on antisemitism


(photo:  Palestine Legal)
Making the case that a dismissed case seeking to censure UMass for hosting an event on Palestinian rights is linked to Trump’s new EO on antisemitism.

By Mitchell Plitnick | Responsible Statecraft  | Dec 17, 2019

While foreign policy in general remains relatively low on the U.S. electoral agenda, there is a growing awareness that the approach to our foreign policy in the post-Cold War era has been gravely misguided

As President Trump made waves with an executive order meant to stifle speech, action, and education that highlights Palestinian rights, a case that might have been affected by that very order was resolved in Massachusetts. The suit, brought by several anonymous students against the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, attempted to censure the university for hosting a panel that supported the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and to establish that such events were inherently discriminatory and must be forbidden on campus.

The panel, which took place as scheduled on May 4, 2019, featured some of the country’s most outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights and progressive causes, including former Women’s March Co-Chair Linda Sarsour, Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, musician Roger Waters, and Sports Editor for The Nation Magazine, Dave Zirin. All these people are fierce critics of Israeli policies from a progressive viewpoint.

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